Not sure about you, but I kept having flashbacks to the 2014 season opener against Jacksonville during the first half of yesterday’s game.
The Eagles came out flatter than a pancake. The Redskins came out looking like the 1985 Bears. Twitter was heading for a premature meltdown, one that would have made Chernobyl look like a nothing burger by comparison.
Instead of Allen Hurns torching the Birds at Lincoln Financial Field, we were watching 35 year old Vernon Davis hurdle Eagle defenders en route to the end zone. We were watching the Birds’ pass rush do pretty much nothing at all. It was a feckless slog of a first half, one that ended with a chorus of boos from the home crowd, which perhaps included the guy who tried to fight Mike Scott before the game, if he actually made it inside the stadium.
But just like the 2014 game, the Birds went into halftime down by multiple scores, then came out and just obliterated the opponent in the third quarter. Back then it was 34 unanswered points against Chad Henne and Toby Gerhart while Sunday it was 25 straight before the Birds allowed a garbage time score that ripped out bettor souls.
Disaster averted, unless you had the Birds at -10.5.
The Eagles are 1-0, the offense transformed from a Fiat into a Ferrari, and the defense turned the pressure up to 11 in the second half, like a Spinal Tap guitar amplifier.
Let’s talk about it.
1. Carson Wentz
He looked like 2017 Carson Wentz out there, once he found his feet and settled into the game.
Carson went 28-39 for 313 yards and three touchdowns, which would have been four if the Alshon Jeffery screen pass had not been ruled a lateral and a rushing attempt.
Certainly DeSean Jackson’s ability to take the top off the defense really helped open things up for Wentz, who found him deep twice for a pair of scores. In years past, Carson has finished below league average when throwing straight middle and to his right on attempts of 20+ yards.
On this afternoon, however, his chart juxtaposes very nicely against what he did last year, courtesy of NFL NextGen stats:
He dropped two dimes right into areas that appeared in red last season. Very nice!
Off the top of my head, I liked:
- obviously the touchdown passes to DeSean
- the beautiful step-through in the pocket and TD pass to Alshon Jeffery
- the sideline pass for Dallas Goedert (great defensive play to knock the ball loose)
- the 3rd and 15 bullet to Zach Ertz in the 4th quarter
On a number of occasions yesterday, we saw the Carson who is able to step up in the pocket, move laterally, and keep plays alive.
To that point, check out this amazing angle of the Jeffery TD catch:
I didn’t like:
- his touch seemed off on a few short tosses (the pass at Jordan Howard’s feet, the Miles Sanders high screen pass in 4th quarter)
And uh… that’s it. I can’t remember any other negatives that jumped out at me. He audibled out of a number of plays, some of which worked and others that didn’t, but it’s hard to qualify the success of those plays when I don’t know what the original call was.
2. Run/pass balance
First game of the season, this is what Doug gave us:
- 29 passes from the shotgun
- 20 runs from the shotgun
- 10 passes from under center
- 11 runs from under center
There was one called pass play that turned into a Wentz scramble and went for zero yards.
But that’s a typical Doug Pederson call sheet, about 70% shotgun and 30% under center sets. All three of Wentz’s touchdown passes came from the shotgun while the Jeffery “lateral” was a quick hit from under center. This all resulted in a 39 to 31 called pass/called run ratio, which is 55% to 45%. That’s a great balance and a pretty typical NFL type of number.
It’s worth pointing out that the Eagles’ best stretch in the running game came on the first drive of the second half, when Doug put the ball on the ground five times in a row. As you can see here on my shitty handwritten notes, the Birds ran it nine times on the 12-play drive that went 75 yards and took 7:10 off the clock:
3. Using the new weapons, or not
Too much Darren Sproles for my liking.
The guy is 36 years old. You went out and traded for Jordan Howard and drafted Miles Sanders. Yet here we are running Sproles nine times, Howard six times, and Sanders 11 times. Darren Sproles can go return punts and kicks and get the occasional carry, but I don’t understand Doug Pederson’s obsession with him. Zach Berman from The Athletic asked about this:
Q. We’ve asked you so much about RB Miles Sanders and RB Jordan Howard throughout preseason. Why so much RB Darren Sproles today? (Zach Berman)
DOUG PEDERSON: Well, some of it was by design, some of the plays that were effective. As you know, when we construct games, we have multiple run schemes and they are designed for different guys. The ones that were kind of clicking today were the Darren ones, and so just kept calling his number there. Those other two guys I thought ran well, also. Unfortunate we get the late holding call late in the game there on that one, but Miles is explosive, as you know. Jordan ran extremely hard. So excited for all three of those guys.
Yeah whatever. Less of Sproles and more Howard and Sanders please.
Passing-wise, the targets were spread out fairly well. DeSean led the pack with 10, Zach Ertz had seven, Alshon Jeffery six, and Nelson Agholor with five. Dallas Goedert had three as well. It seemed like the Eagles were having trouble finding Ertz and that intermediate route early on, but after burning Washington twice with DeSean, some of those 5-10 yard patterns began opening up.
Defensively, Ronald Darby and Rasul Douglas started on the outside with Avonte Maddox in the slot and Sidney Jones on the bench. That was a surprise. Nigel Bradham and Zach Brown were the nickel linebackers while Brandon Brooks started the game and came out for Big V after meeting his snaps restriction, which Doug confirmed after the game.
4. DeSean Jaccson
Kyle has only threatened to fire me twice. Once was if I failed to include the Keith Hernandez Seinfeld clip in a baseball post, and the second occasion was when I wrote DeSean “Jackson” instead of “Jaccson.” We’ll go with Jaccson from here on out.
He was a monster today. Just monstrous. If you took Godzilla and glued his body to the Kraken, the resulting fucked up amalgam wouldn’t be half as monstrous as what D Jax did on the field Sunday. Eight catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns is better than any single game he had last year in Tampa.
Yardage-wise, this will go down a top-ten all-time game for him, as you can see here courtesy of Pro Football Reference:
Interestingly enough, DeSean said he wasn’t the target on the first touchdown pass:
“Actually, I wasn’t the intended receiver on that play. It was a clear route but Carson said stay alert. That play was actually intended for Alshon on the deep cross route but the way they played their coverage was like in and out. Josh Norman was outside and I was inside the slot and he was supposed to be guarding Alshon, but when I went, he took me. The safety cut down on the route and he threw the ball and I just ran at it. Great feeling.”
Welcome back, D Jax.
5. Rushing three
Washington was asking for a loss when this happened.
Up 17-0 in the second quarter, with the Eagles sitting on the 50-yard line on a third and 10, they decided to rush three and drop eight, but Jaccson beat them deep anyway:
GIMME SOME pic.twitter.com/2qVjSV5hOl
— Fox PHL Gambler (@Sean_Brace) September 8, 2019
Not a fan of rushing three in the NFL, ever. This is what you do when you’re facing a rookie or a transfer quarterback on a Big 12 team, or you can’t recruit on the d-line. With the Eagles’ blocking 5v3 on an obvious passing down, good quarterbacks like Carson Wentz are going to be able to buy themselves enough time to find weak points in the drop-8, and in this case DeSean just went right over the top.
6. What about the defense?
They couldn’t sniff Case Keenum early, then really put together a brilliant second half, holding the Redskins to five yards on ten plays with three straight punts.
Two plays I wanted to highlight defensively, the first being the 69-yard touchdown pass where Rasul Douglas got cooked:
Safety blitz, looks like Rodney McLeod free off the corner and a really nice pickup from Derrius Guice. All 11 Eagles are up near the line so there’s no help over the top, which results in Douglas getting diced 1v1. He’s not the fastest guy in space, so he’s a sitting duck in that situation without a high safety out there to cover for him.
The second play is the Andrew Sendejo coverage and missed tackle on the Davis score:
Vernon Davis. Holy shit. pic.twitter.com/BesWTItdAs
— NFL Memes (@NFL_Memes) September 8, 2019
Looks like a little stumble there from Sendejo, who actually did a nice job stepping up and covering him initially. After the hurdle, Sendejo tried to tackle him up high, but McLeod I think actually had the worst effort there, with the Asante Samuel impersonation.
I’d like to go back and watch some of the defensive coverages on the all-22 film, because that’s the best wide-angle view we have. It’s still a bit rough watching the Eagles give a ton of cushion to opposing receivers, but that’s what Jim Schwartz does schematically so nobody should be surprised.
I also found it interesting that Daeshon Hall was deactivated. The Birds actually used Malik Jackson as an edge rusher on some third down scenarios, with Brandon Graham moving inside. They like to stack defensive ends on obvious passing downs, but I’d think that’s a case where Graham could rush from the tackle position and then Hall or Vinny Curry someone else could come in on the edge.
7. Ancillary wins and losses
This is now going to be a regular entry to the weekly takeaways column. These phases of the game generally determine whether the Eagles win or lose, and during the Super Bowl year they excelled in a number of these areas.
Sunday, the results:
- won time of possession 34:21 to 25:33
- 0 turnover margin (neither team coughed it up)
- 11-17 on third down (64.7%)
- 1-2 on fourth down (50%)
- allowed Redskins to go 5-13 on third down (38.5%)
- lost 0 yards on 1 sack
- 2-3 success rate in the red zone
- 6 penalties for 54 yards
- 22 first downs, just 15 for Washington
- ran 70 total plays, Washington 59
Wins across the board there, and the TOP number is insane considering the fact that the Eagles were horrendous in the first half. There was a point in the second half where the Birds were winning the 3rd and 4th quarters by a 20 minute to 5 minute mark, which is bananas.
That third down number pops to me. 64.7% is wonderful, and a huge outlier. For context, the Eagles converted 40% of third downs last year and 44% the year prior. No NFL team goes 65% on third downs for sustained stretches of games.
Penalties were good, too. No huge damage there. On DeSean’s early penalty, I think the refs could have just thrown two flags there, one on each guy, and just let those penalties offset. I also thought the JJ Arcega-Whiteside holding call, which wiped out the Miles Sanders touchdown, was highly questionable.
8. Doug’s best call?
No problem at all with the 4th and 2 call on the second drive, the pass that was batted down. The Eagles could have taken the three points there, but that’s just not Pederson’s mindset, which we all should know by now.
On that specific call, the Eagles went shotgun with four receivers in 12 personnel. It looked like they wanted Dallas Goedert on the short out route, but he was covered, and Wentz’s pass for Jackson was knocked down. Play call was fine though.
I also didn’t have a problem with the QB sneak on 4th and 1 to open the second half. It was certainly iffy from a situational standpoint, since they were backed up in their own half of the field and losing by multiple scores, but the play call made a ton of sense from trust standpoint when you consider how good Wentz was on sneaks in 2017. That run moved the sticks and wound up being play four of a 12-play touchdown drive. You could say it was the catalyst for the second half comeback and eventual win, and perhaps the most important offensive play of the entire game.
9. Doug’s worst call?
There were some bad ones in the first half.
Specifically, the 3rd and 1 pitch play to Darren Sproles was just a ghastly call. Totally abhorrent. You’ve got Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders, Wentz can sneak it, etc.
I was also not interested in the pitch to Sproles on the 2-point conversion, but for whatever reason Doug wanted to toss the ball to his 36 year old in a high-leverage situation and he shoved the square peg into the round hole again, this time Sproles’ individual skill bailing out a bad play call.
Another one I didn’t like was the the 3rd and 10 screen pass to DeSean out in the flat. The bubble screen, if you wanna call it that, is a bullshit college play and not something you run with the professional receiving corps you have on this team. Throw the ball down the field.
Finally, on the opening drive of the second half, PRIOR to Carson’s sneak, I HATED the 3rd and 5 Sproles run out of the shotgun. Why? What the hell for? Sproles actually ran it twice on the first three plays of that drive (one was an audible) and the Birds put themselves into a 4th down situation they didn’t need to be in.
Anyway, I understand these two sections are mostly arbitrary, but if you need help determining good and bad 4th down play calls, I made a flow chart for you:
10. Let’s talk about the broadcast
Charles Davis and Kevin Burkhardt called this game, and I listed them in that order, even though Davis is the color commentator and Burkhardt does play-by-play.
I listed them that way because Davis does the majority of the talking, which has been my gripe with him over the years. Don’t me get wrong; I think the guy knows his stuff and I think he’s a good broadcaster, but in previous Eagles games it sometimes feels like he needs to let the action “breathe” a bit more, if that makes sense.
To his credit, I think he did that on Sunday. I didn’t feel like I was getting bashed over the head by Charles Davis, while Burkhardt is typically steady. No broadcast concerns here at all; I think they did a nice job.
I also appreciated the volume of the field mics, which made it very easy to hear Wentz calling for audibles and other things, which adds context to the game if you’re interested in paying attention to that kind of stuff.
Also, not sure if y’all caught it, but FOX played Pantera’s “Cemetery Gates” as bump music to take us to a fourth quarter commercial. I’ll leave you with that song, since that’s where the Redskins offense wound up in the second half. In the cemetery, buried by the Eagles’ defense: